The Velvet Crush: Soft Sounds

[5 November 2002]

By Jason MacNeil

The Velvet Crush have released many albums since signing to the Action Musik label, including early demos, rarities, and a singles collection. But the Sweet (as in Matthew) harmonies and melodic Midwestern pop the group has sought really hasn’t been captured as brilliantly as its Teenage Symphonies to God album a while ago. The latest release sees the trio reduced to drummer Rick Menck and multi-instrumentalist Paul Chastain. But despite the reduction, the same cavity-inducing arrangements are toned down a bit. Hence the album’s appropriate title.

Split into two “sides” and including three interesting covers, the album begins with “Staying Found”, a downbeat but constantly building pop track that showcases lead singer Paul Chastain’s strength in hitting all the right high notes in the right places. Matthew Sweet provides some harmony vocals (as some of the material was recorded at Sweet’s Los Angeles abode) while Menck plays a minor role over the keyboards. The track sets the course for most of the record, a tamer and more sobering effort than some lovers of the group might be accustomed to. “Don’t Take Me Down” picks up the pace slightly, adding more Richards-like guitar riffs that same more when offered sparingly. Matthew Sweet and Tom Petty circa She’s the One would draw fair comparisons. The only early miscue is the sugarcoated cover of the Alex Chilton and Box Tops’ track “Rollin’ in My Sleep”.

“Some Kind of Light” returns to the blueprint of “Staying Found”, but with more guitar and feedback in the vein of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “Wish you could see inside you I got you”, Chastain croons. Perhaps the track that “rocks” is the mid-tempo toe-tapper “Save Me a Place” which covers a tune penned for Fleetwood Mac by Lindsay Buckingham. Singing with more of a country sound in his voice over some country chords and accompanying pedal steel from Greg Leisz, this track is the album’s highlight. Most of the album has a touch of melancholy, though, that at times results in the suffering of the song. The Paul Simon meets Cat Stevens delivery for “In Your Time” is strong in the acoustic folk driven tune, but the song would benefit from an improved arrangement.

“Forever, For Now” is another stellar song that has traces of harmonica and more of a folk style feel, but Chastain gives such a definite bounce in the tempo that good-natured vibe oozes from it. But if there’s any downside to the album, it seems many of the tracks are interchangeable, which becomes rather monotonous at times. The horns and Bacharach hues on “She Goes On” are similar to a ‘70s love song or Brian Wilson before hitting his creative breaking point. “Vanishing Point” has potential but ends just as the tune lifts off the ground, culminating in just over two minutes.

When The Velvet Crush opt for the murky country rock styles, the payoff is quite good. “Duchess”, a track from the legendary and contemporary Pulp guru Scott Walker, has a Townes Van Zandt feeling running throughout. Talking about shimmering dresses and lighting candles, Chastain gives his best on this track. This is followed by the horrid “Party Line (Samba)”, a track that reminds all what was so bad about the Doors. The flamenco and Latin flavor is ambitious but utterly forgettable.

Closing with the spacey and dreamy “Late in the Day”, a reflective song about regrets and time passing. “Was it Christmas when I said I’d return before the fall / Plans only made to change / Our worlds will never be the same”, Chastain sings over a lovable piano and guitar effect. This is also the first song allowed to see its logical and lengthy conclusion, something the album could use more of. A soft rock record, to be sure, but fear not Velvet Crush fans. The group has lined up Jay Bennet, Bob Kimbell, and Nick Rudd for its next harder sounding pop album.

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